This is a subject I’ve wanted to research for some time but have struggled to see how. I suspect we are seeing the very early stages of a backlash against the uptake of social media by academics – encompassing both the regulation of its ‘improper’ use and the incentivisation of its ‘proper’ use, with the latter being in practice no less pernicious than the former. This recent article in Inside Higher Education framed it as common sense that we need policies to clarify such an ambiguous situation:
From censored tweets to viral videos of professors’ partisan “rants,” numerous faculty members have found themselves in hot water over how they’ve used or been portrayed on social media in the past year. For faculty members at most colleges and universities, social media is a kind of “wild west” in which there are few – if any – articulated policies protecting professors’ right to tweet, post or otherwise share professional or personal thoughts (or to keep their thoughts private).
That’s a problem, said Henry Reichman, professor emeritus of history at California State University at East Bay and chair of the American Association of University Professors’ Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure. He delivered the plenary address at AAUP’s annual conference here Thursday, aptly called “Can I Tweet That?”
“We need policies, but what we need are good policies,” said Reichman, emphasizing that faculty members and their elected leaders should be involved in drafting such social media policies “from the get-go.”
To be fair, the article contrasts (good) “faculty-driven policy” to (bad) policy formulated by university managers. But is this dichotomy really tenable? To discuss regulation admits the premise that such control would be legitimate – is this the case? If so then it needs to be argued for in principle, rather than be smuggled in surreptitiously in the guise of pragmatism about the potential implications of academic social media use. It’s not obvious that regulation is necessary, all the more so when we consider broader trends towards precarious work within the academic labour market.
I think this is a very complex issue. Much more so than anything I’ve read on the subject seems to acknowledge. This will be a large section of the final chapter of Social Media for Academics but I’m quite far away from being in a position to write it. My views on the issue are being shaped by some of the experiences that have been recounted to me in private – it’s difficult to know the extent to which these reflect a broader tendency beginning to emerge in UK higher education. If anyone has had experience of these issues and would like to talk then please do get in touch (firstname.lastname@example.org). It goes without saying that any experience recounted to me will be treated in the strictest confidence.